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Monday, February 2, 2015, 09:06

Retirement protection will help elderly poor: Cheung

By Joseph Li in Hong Kong

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung says the determination to explore the viability of a retirement protection scheme reflects the government’s strong commitment to the issue. He advises people not to argue over whether it is a “universal” scheme for all the elderly. They should not insist on a universal scheme or nothing at all, like those threatening to veto the government’s electoral reform package if it does not provide “true universal suffrage”.

In examining retirement protection, he believes financial sustainability and affordability of stakeholders are prime concerns.

“Given limited public resources, the government must target needy people, whereas a universal program may not be financially sustainable if all elderly retirees get the same amount of pension,” he explained.

He expressed gratitude to Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun from the University of Hong Kong for his research report on the issue, which had provided a sound basis for discussion.

The government will conduct a consultation exercise in the second half of the year to seek public opinion and find a way forward. It will ask people key questions, including whether they will be willing to contribute to retirement protection or not.

“A universal program involving tripartite contributions from government, employers and employees is highly controversial. It will take Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the government a great deal of political determination to tackle longstanding problems, instead of avoiding them.

“While many people, especially young people, are reluctant to contribute, there are voices from the business community that they would rather pay higher profit tax or Mandatory Provident Fund contributions than to accept a new retirement program,’’ he said.

“Take the example of the Old Age Living Allowance that had been filibustered over seven Legislative Council Finance Committee meetings before it was approved before Christmas 2012, the government would have given up had we not had strong enough political determination,” he stated.

Cheung revealed that after collecting public views, the government may put forward several proposals for further discussion.

He hopes the government will reach a consensus in society within its remaining tenure, which will enable the next government to launch the retirement protection program.
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